Patria and I went on a quick bikepacking adventure in the National Monument area of Colorado.  Wow.

Let me catch my breath.

Sunrise Between Bikes - photo - Rob Vandermark

Ride Overview

  • Time-frame:  Three days and two nights.  Thursday, July 31 early afternoon through Saturday evening, August 2, 2014.
  • Location:  Colorado, near Grand Junction.  Fruita, Kokopelli, Colorado National Monument, and McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area.
  • Elevation:  Base-camp was about 4,600 feet.  The highest point was just over 7,000 feet.
  • Ride Type:  Bikepacking with a combination of packed in meals and store bought food.
  • Terrain:  Very mixed.  Everything from perfect pavement to very challenging rocky singletrack with portage sections.  The most common terrain was well-worn singletrack.
  • Climate:
    • Daytime Temperature:  Saturday’s peak was 109 degrees – so says Garmin.  The average for that ride was 100.  The average for all three rides was around 95 degrees.  All sun all the time.
    • Evening Temperature:  About 55 degrees.
    • Weather:  A bit of rain on the first night while in the tent.  Otherwise, sunny all the time.  There were numerous storms all around our location but we managed to always be riding away from the rain and lightning; this was partially intentional – we determined which are we’d ride in based on the weather report.

This ride was really incredible.  It reminded me of New Zealand in some ways.  But a lot more arid.  Already thinking about heading back and exploring some more trails.  I’ll start hill training now.

In the Mountains - video image - Rob VandermarkHighlight of the trip:  Feeling very isolated on some of the well-worn singletrack while seeing some incredible rock formations.

Most challenging aspects of the trip:

  1. Not getting enough sleep – which started with getting up at 4:30 am after getting to bed at about 1 am, so we could get on the road by 5 am so we could get to Grand Junction by noon so we could still cram in a 9-hour ride during that same day.  Overall not getting enough sleep.
  2. I was glad to survive the biggest climb of the trip – and the longest single climb I’ve done to date – exceeding the Mt. Etna elevation gain in Sicily that was my previous longest climb.  By Strava’s account the Carnage Climb is a category 2 climb – and that doesn’t include the 2-plus miles of tough singletrack that began our ascent.  The extended climb Patria and I did gained 2,200 feet of elevation over 12.2 miles; an average grade of 3.4%.  The climb began at about 6-hours into the ride for that day.  The steepest part of the offroad section was 26.5%.

Bike Setup

  • Frameset:  Seven Cycles Evergreen SL with couplers and mechanical disc.  Carbon fork.
  • Gear System:  11-32t Ultegra 6800 cassette with Rene Herse crankset with 30/48 chainrings.  This combination gets me a 26 inch low gear.  This is the equivalent of the custom 11-speed 36t cassette I made for New Zealand.  Gear inch calculator.
  • Light System:  SON28 Centerlock Disc Generator hub but no generator light – time limitation issues.
  • Wheels:  Modified Enve 3.4 wheels.  In early 2014, when I originally built this bike, 11-speed disc wheel options were very few.  By far the lightest durable wheeleset was the Enve at 1,460 grams.
    • Front:  Enve rim with SON28 hub, centerlock.
    • Rear:  Enve rim with DT 240 hub, centerlock.
  • Tires:  Clement X’plor MSO 40s.  A good choice when the terrain will range from pavement to technical singletrack.  One flat caused by a thorn.
  • Brakes:  First trip on Shimano CX77 mechanical discs.
  • Kit:  Shimano mechanical Dura-Ace 9000 shifters, FD, and chain – with Ultegra 6800 rear derailleur and 32t cassette.
  • Equipment Mounting System:  Prototype compression rear rack.  Stainless steel.  Collapsible.
  • New Items and Tests:
    • Crankset:  First trip on the Rene Herse 30 inner ring.  Worked great.  No shifting challenges.  The 26-inch gear worked perfectly.  Of course I would like an even lower gear; this would be easy with a smaller front ring.
    • Collapsible compression rack:  We modified the original compression rack to now be collapsible.  Worked flawlessly.
    • Brake calipers:  Shimano CX77 discs with the SON28 generator hub.  Plenty of room.  Not brake interference issues.  The Spyres don’t work with the flange height and width of the generator hub.  I’ve used the Shimano’s many times and I like them.


  • The Camp on First Evening - photo - Rob VandermarkCamping Equipment:  Total weight ~6lbs 14oz, ~3,120g.  Tent, 2 lofts tarp, footprint, five stakes, totaling @ ~1,640g sleeping bag @ 570g, sleeping pad @ 450g, liner @ ~45g, pillow @ 85g, poncho @ ~200g, all in two compression bags @ ~70g plus four straps @ ~60g.
  • Cooking Equipment:  Total weight:  ~5 ounces.  Stove, windshield, fuel, matches.
  • Bike Equipment:  ~12 lbs. including three gps units, four lights, and two Garmin virbs.  Spare tire.  One thousand tools.
  • Handlebar Bag and Feed  Bag:  ~8 lbs. of stuff.  Camera, phone, spare batteries, food, sunscreen, insect repellent, and more.
  • Hydration System:  In dry hot climates I supposedly have to drink about 228 ounces per day, or 6.7 liters; that’s a lot of water.  In order to get even close to this:
    • Three 26 ounce water bottles on the bike.  Equivalent of 2.25 liters.
    • Three-liter water capacity Osprey Raptor 10 hydration backpack.  This bag is bigger than I needed but Patria used the Osprey Raptor 6 bag.  Both have three-liter bladders.
    • Water filtration system:  Sawyer Squeeze Filter System.  Fortunately we did not have to use this.
  • Clothing:   Aside from what I was wearing, ~ 1.4 lbs.  Knee warmers, arm warmers, vest, rain cape.  I didn’t carry a change of bibs, jersey, base layer, socks, or shoes; rode the same kit for three days.
  • New Items and Tests:
    • Stove:  I tried fuel gel for the first time and it worked fine.  I’d read mixed reviews but at 5,000 feet it boiled 3+ cups of water in about 10 minutes.  Good enough for me.  No smell.  Fairly clean.  Very light.
    • Sleeping Bag:  I tried a lighter warmer temperature bag – the Big Agnes Pitchline SL – for this trip since the low temperature would be in the mid 50s.  This worked well temperate-wise; it was too warm.  But I’m not crazy about the partial zipper – it saves weight but it’s a pain to get my legs into.  This bag saved about 11oz over my Horse Thief SL.
    • Silk liner:  I’ve not traveled with one before because I feel like they’re a waste of weight.  However, I get pretty dirty after a few days of riding in the dirt so I thought I’d give it a try.  And given how warm we expected the nights to be I thought it might be enough.  It worked well and was pretty close to warm enough without a sleeping bag.  I will try this again.
    • Pillow:  This was the first time I’ve ever traveled with a pillow.  However, given the trouble I’ve had sleeping on these trips I thought I’d give it a try.  And the inflatable pillow is only 85 grams.  It was definitely worthwhile.  I will use this again.
    • Supplemental oxygen:  On a whim I thought it might be worthwhile to have some oxygen in case I was showing signs of altitude sickness.  Patria carried the container and I used it a number of times during our rides.  Our altitude topped out at just over 7,000 feet.  I think it was worthwhile.  Will try it again when we do higher elevation riding.

Thoughts For The Next Adventure

Neckerchief:  I couldn’t keep my neck from burning even though I had no real issues on any other exposed parts of my body.  those that know me know I don’t get any sun; meaning that sun screen worked incredibly well on everything except my neck.  I think the burn was caused by three things:  my neck was endlessly exposed to sun, my neck was probably sweating more than most other exposed parts, and I think my jersey collar was wiping away the sun screen.  A neckerchief will solve these challenges.

Ride More:  Start riding my bike more so that I can physically manage these tough rides better.

Pack Lighter:  I have to find a way to get the bike, all riding gear and equipment, and any other travel stuff to fit into two bags.  Including the bike and bags I had about 115 lbs of stuff.  I have to find a way to get well under 100 lbs.  Not sure how that’s going to happen right now.  This was definitely the lightest traveling I’ve ever done.

Stomach:  Improve some ongoing stomach issues I’m having on long hard rides.  I believe the root cause is riding way over my head for hours on end – the Carnage climb, for example.  Yay.

Sleep:  Find a way to sleep better.  Ear plugs are not enough.

That’s about it.  I cannot wait for the next adventure!

To Colorado River

To Colorado River


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